Caroline Rotich sprints to Boston Marathon 2015 victory – By the 5K mark of the 119th Boston Marathon, Desiree Linden had shed her hat and tossed away her long-sleeved shirt. If the 31-year-old American had to be the one to assure that this year’s race was run at an honest pace, with no excuses for the biting 45-degree chill and nerve-wracking headwind that would worsen to gusts of 29 mph by the finish, so be it.
For the next 20 miles, the gutsy Michigander took control. Now and then she might tuck in for a minute, but then resumed command. If she lagged to grab fluids, she quickly motored back into the lead. When the pack shuffled to follow a tangent, she moved back into position. Fans armored with rain gear and hugging themselves to stay warm erupted in chants of “USA! USA!” as they caught sight of an American in the lead. Lisa Rainsberger, whose win in 1985 was the last for an American woman, had fired the starter’s pistol. Perhaps it was an omen.
But in the 23rd mile, Ethiopian Mare Dibiba decided it was time to remind everyone, including her rivals, that her 2:19:52 personal best was the fastest in the field. Last year’s Boston Marathon runner-up, Buzunesh Deba, insisted that her 2:19:59 PB wasn’t going to waste, either.
Surprisingly, Kenya’s Caroline Rotich, with a lifetime best of 2:23:22 and better known as a half marathoner, tagged along. After making the race, Linden slipped back.
The three hammered the next mile and a half together, often elbow-to-elbow, as the experts waited for the Ethiopian duo to leave Rotich behind before launching into the Big Duel down Boylston Street.
Instead, Deba fell prey to Hereford Street. When Dibaba surged with about 400 meters to go, it looked as if she would play out her role as race favorite right to the finish line.
Then Rotich, 31, unleashed a ferocious kick with less than 200 meters remaining, vanquishing a dejected Dibaba and breaking the tape in 2:24:55 to win her first Abbott World Marathon Majors race.
“We came to [mile 25] and I was like, ‘it’s almost over,’ and knew I wouldn’t go all-out until the finish,” said Rotich, who took home the top prize of $150,000. “[When Dibaba surged] I thought I would finish second. Just like that I saw the finish line and was like, ‘Oh, I can kick!’ Once I saw the finish, I knew I could let go.”
Dibaba, runner-up in 2:24:59, had predicted on Friday that she would win, “but I realized in the last few meters that I wasn’t going to have enough.” Deba finished third in 2:25:09, and fought back tears as she tried to describe the feeling of falling just short of victory once again (in addition to her second place here last year, the 27-year-old from the Bronx has twice been runner-up in the TCS New York City Marathon).
Linden finished as top American, fourth in 2:25:39. Winning the master’s division was New Zealand’s Liza Hunter-Galvan, 45, in 2:46:44. Joan Samuelson finished in 2:54:03, the fastest marathon by a 57-year-old woman in history.
Hometown favorite Shalane Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Mass., and last year recorded the fastest Boston Marathon ever by an American woman (2:22:02), ran safely in the lead pack until just before the firehouse turn into the Newton Hills. She abruptly veered away from the pack, running a tight tangent in which she searched for breathing room to regroup from legs that began feeling heavy around halfway. Flanagan soon fell back and ran alone the rest of the way, fighting the wind and searing disappointment to finish ninth in 2:27:47.
“I felt like I had lead legs,” she said, unsure of the cause but wondering if her timing in coming down from altitude might have been a factor. “Normally when I put in the work I can see the results, and this is maybe the first time that I haven’t seen the results coincide with the training.”
Linden—whose runner-up finish by two seconds in 2011 is the best by an American since 1993—flashed a quick smile as she passed through the Wellesley College scream tunnel just before bringing the 11-woman pack though the halfway point in 1:12:33. By the 18-mile mark, entering the Newton Hills, she was the only American remaining, as first Amy Cragg and then Flanagan drifted back. Cragg would drop out of the race between 35K and 40K.
“With the conditions and the course I knew today was going to be a war of attrition,” said Linden. “My goal was to go out there and make it a full marathon, to grind it out and hopefully there wouldn’t be a huge pack at the end. I had to trust that the race was going to take the legs out of people late.”
They say the marathon begins at 20 miles, and this one surely did. At exactly that mile marker, 2011 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Kilel—the woman who denied Linden an American victory that year—hit the gas pedal as if trying to outrace a tornado. The surge didn’t last long, but it was enough to shake the pack out of its routine. Then, Dibaba slung herself around Cleveland Circle, and the pack finally began to splinter. Linden briefly regained the lead before Dibaba, Deba, and Rotich, who finished fourth here in 2011 and is coached by Olympic triathlete Ryan Bolton in Santa Fe, New Mexico, took off for good.
Linden said afterward that had someone else come forward to set an honest pace, she would have happily tucked in, but that she refused to let the pace get too soft and had no regrets.
Asked how the race compared to her near-triumph four years ago, Linden said, “2011 was definitely a highlight for me. I hope it isn’t the highlight of my career, but that’s why I keep coming back. Today was huge for me, being injured in 2012 (and forced to drop out of the Olympic Marathon). I’m really proud of myself. Today was just as big personally as 2011 was.”